His name will forever be linked with fast Fords, and this month we reflect on the Ford hero that was Carroll Shelby…
This month we salute Ford legend, Carroll Shelby.
Legends don’t come much bigger than Carroll Shelby. For many, his name will always be most closely associated with the AC Cobra; for others, it’s the Shelby Mustang. The Cobra story is an interesting one, as the model started as the AC Ace, a slender roadster with a Bristol straight-six. Shelby wrote to AC in 1961 and asked if they’d modify an Ace for him to accept a V8 with the idea of selling them in the USA, and AC agreed on the proviso that Shelby source the engines. Having been knocked back by Chevrolet, he found Ford to be more than keen to provide engines for something that could rival the Corvette – and they had the shiny new 221ci Windsor V8 ready to go! The prototypes worked, so AC started shipping finished but engine-less cars to Carroll’s plant in Los Angeles, where he and his team fitted the larger 260ci (and later 289, 390, and 427ci) V8s, and an icon was born.
Shelby American started building lightweight road-racer Mustangs in the mid-1960s – initially the GT350, followed by the GT500, and the name was later reprised from 2005. Shelby Mustangs are fearsome performers and command eye-watering money among collectors.
Born in 1923, Carroll Shelby suffered heart problems from the age of 7 that dogged him his entire life – it was somewhat incredible that he made it to the grand age of 89. He certainly never let health issues slow him down; cutting his teeth in the US Army Air Corps and serving in World War II as a flight instructor and test pilot, he went on to work with oil wells and, surprisingly, as a poultry farmer, before becoming a racing driver in the 1950s. He competed in Formula One and at Le Mans, and even held 16 speed records at Bonneville. This was the foundation upon which he based his pitch to AC to market a V8-engined Ace as the Cobra and, retiring from driving in 1959, he set himself up as a constructor – something which suited him very well, having input with Dodge and Oldsmobile as well as Ford’s GT40 and the Daytona Coupé… and, of course, those Cobras and Mustangs. A motorsport icon, and a real Ford hero.